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At trail's end, a historic vote that few remember

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2003

PACIFIC COUNTY, Wash. (AP) -- No great crowds gather at the monument to democracy here.

At present, there's little more than a marker at a turnout from the road that runs along the broad Columbia River near a spot that was called Station Camp.

It was here on Nov. 24, 1805, that the Lewis and Clark Expedition -- having reached the ocean and, as one member wrote, ''the end of our voyage'' -- voted on where to spend the winter before returning home.

What made the vote significant: No one was excluded.

It may have been the first time in American history that a black slave and a woman, notably an Indian woman, participated equally with white men in a recorded vote.

''At night the party was consulted by the Commanding Officers, as to the place most proper for winter quarters,'' wrote Sgt. Patrick Gass in his journal of the day.

''The whole party assembled,'' Pvt. Joseph Whitehouse noted.

In William Clark's journal, long columns record first and second choices. The last vote listed is that of York, Clark's servant.

Like most of the others, York chose to make the difficult crossing of the Columbia into what is now Oregon, where Indians had said elk could be found.

Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who made the trip, also voted. Using her nickname, Clark wrote: ''Janey in favour of a place where there is plenty of Potas'' -- an edible root.

The experiment in equality had no impact on entrenched discrimination. It would be 115 years before the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Slaves were emancipated in 1863, but more than a century passed before the Voting Rights Act became law.

Still, the long-ignored vote is gaining attention. There are plans to better mark this leg of the expedition's trail, where ragged clouds of fog catch in evergreen woods and the cries of seabirds mingle with the grunts of logging trucks.

''Hallowed ground, I would call it,'' says Dayton Duncan, author of two books and a PBS documentary on Lewis and Clark.

On the day of the vote, expedition members had carved their names in trees -- ''physically expanding the boundaries of the United States.''

''By the vote, they were symbolically expanding the potential of what the United States stands for,'' Duncan says. ''They were planting a flag of the future that even they couldn't see.''



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